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Speaking Truth to Power – How Political Rhetoric Leads to a Counter Response of LGBTQ Street-Level Bureaucrats

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Abstract

Does political rhetoric play a role in street-level bureaucrats policy implementation? If so, how? We examine this question through in-depth semi-structured interviews with 31 Israeli LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) teachers. Our findings demonstrate that when politicians express anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that contradicts the ideological position of these street-level bureaucrats, the latter implement policies that run counter to the stated positions of the former. Our study contributes to the implementation literature by highlighting the implications of political rhetoric in the execution of bottom-up policies. It illustrates that politicians’ words have power, which paradoxically motivates street-level bureaucrats to react by subverting them.

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... Third, it shows how street-level bureaucrats see the outputs of their active representation of their minority clients. Fourth, the study investigates empirically this phenomenon among LGB street-level bureaucrats, a population hitherto ignored by the street-level and representative bureaucracy literature (Bishu & Kennedy, 2020;Davidovitz, 2022;Davidovitz & Cohen, 2022a). Altogether, the study contributes to a better understanding of the role of street-level bureaucrats as active representatives of minority clients and resultant policy outcomes. ...
... These players are not neutral. They make decisions based on their ideological positions (Bell et al., 2021;Davidovitz & Cohen, 2022a;Keiser, 2010) or views about what is right for their clients (Maynard-Moody & Musheno, 2003;Weißmüller et al., 2020). Often, they overcome the built-in gap between the policy as designed and the services needed (Gofen, 2014;Hupe & Buffat, 2014). ...
... and justice (Portillo & Rudes, 2014), and insisting on the civil rights of those they serve to reduce social disparities they see in the public service environment (Lavee, 2021). For example, Davidovitz and Cohen (2022a) demonstrate how, to protect their clients, they challenge politicians' anti-LGBTQ+ statements. ...
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The literature dealing with representative bureaucracy emphasizes the role that minority street-level bureaucrats may play when, directly and indirectly, they actively represent clients with whom they share a common identity. My study goes further, contributing to the implementation literature, by examining why and how these street-level bureaucrats use their discretion to shape non-minority clients’ attitudes toward minorities. I explore this phenomenon empirically through interviews with 36 Israeli lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) teachers. I analyze the traditional methods they routinely adopt such as exposing students to information about minorities, encouraging open discussions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) issues in the classroom, and entrepreneurially developing and introducing innovative learning programs. I illustrate how they respond to ad hoc cases (for example protecting LGBTQ+ clients or taking advantage of outside events to promote understanding of relevant issues) and the approach of leading by example. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
... While street-level bureaucracy research analyzes the impact of political or public pressure on frontline workers' perceptions May & Winter. 2009), less is known about how these pressures influence frontline workers' implementation decisions (but see Davidovitz & Cohen, 2021b, 2021a. ...
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Lipsky (1980) pointed out that street-level bureaucrats (SLBs) are important policymakers due to the discretion they exercise and argued from a structural perspective that these workers manifest relatively similar coping behaviors owing to their shared working conditions characterized by chronically limited resources and nonvoluntary clients. Using data from a national survey of municipal child welfare caseworkers in Denmark, we further develop Lipsky’s theory from an agency perspective by focusing on variation in coping among SLBs and examining the extent to which such variation is explained by SLBs’ attitudes towards the target group, the objectives and content of their jobs, and their perceptions of the capacity of their institutions. We find that SLBs’ aversion to and tolerance of the client group, their perceptions of institutional capacity in terms of municipal resources and local political inefficacy and their conceptual modification of job contents are all related to their use of coping.
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Tel Aviv’s Gay-Center is unique in Israel for being sponsored, managed and controlled by the municipality. This article focuses on the Gay-Center as a material, symbolic and discursive space in order to clarify the relationship between LGBT individuals and the nation. Based on an ethnographic study, we show that since its establishment the Gay-Center has undergone centralization processes as a result of being located in central Tel Aviv and by striving for LGBT mainstreaming, thereby accelerating the achievement of sexual citizenship and urban belonging. However, the expansion of sexual citizenship, which is always based on processes of inclusion and exclusion, reveals homonational practices and homonormative discourses. Since being in the city is the easiest and, at times, the only way to earn sexual citizenship, we argue that LGBT urban citizenship is an indication, a marker and thus a prerequisite of homonationalism.
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It is well established that bureaucrats' implementation of policies is influenced by their own policy positions, that is, their attitudes toward the given policies. However, what affects the policy positions of bureaucrats? This article focuses on whether the policy positions of bureaucrats at the front lines of government are susceptible to frames and cues embedded in communication. Based on the notion that bureaucrats often adhere to certain professional norms when developing their attitudes toward policies, the authors hypothesize that communication frames and cues that align policies with such norms move bureaucrats' policy positions in favor of the policy. Results of four studies in European and American settings among mid- and street-level bureaucrats show support for the hypothesized effect. They also show that aligning policies with dimensions outside professional norms is ineffective, possibly even producing opposite effects.
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This article examines the school experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in the United States and Israel. Through comparison of the sociocultural and edu-cational contexts, the authors assess whether school experience of LGBT students differs or operates similarly across countries. The authors use data from the National School Climate Survey conducted in 2007 in the United States and the Israeli School Climate Survey conducted in 2008 in Israel. In comparison with their Israeli counterparts, LGBT students in the United States were more likely to experience assault and harassment in schools but were more likely to have access to LGBT supportive resources in their schools. Results from multi-variate analysis show that negative school climate affect absent-eeism and school belonging similarly for both countries.
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A basic principle of good government is that politics should be restricted to the input side, whereas the bureaucracy should operate independently of political considerations. However, previous literature documents an implementation gap between unitary political aims and varied local outcomes, which occasionally can be attributed to political reasons; both bureaucratic ideology and that local political constituencies can shape implementation and affect outcome. So far, however, research has neglected the question of whether one of these effects is conditioned by the other. This article presents original data on the political orientation of public employees in the Swedish Social Insurance Administration that allow these two factors to be tested together for the first time. The main finding is that neither the bureaucratic ideology nor the political orientation of the local community independently affects the outcome but that the real effect of political ideology on implementation takes the form of an interaction effect between the two. This interaction effect visualizes so that a rightward shift in bureaucratic ideology significantly reduces the number of annual sick leave days per capita when the political orientation of the local community is right leaning. Hence, political ideology only affects welfare state outcome by restricting policy implementation in a situation in which restrictive public employees are positioned in restrictive local communities.
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Dutch immigration and integration policies are being interpreted and implemented by local street-level bureaucrats. We carried out 28 semi-structured interviews with integration coaches, integration teachers and client managers in order to understand the dilemmas they face, and to explain their subsequent behaviour. The results show that although organizational characteristics such as the bureaucratic burden made street-level bureaucrats reluctant to enlarge their discretionary space at the expense of policy rules, their willingness to help clients often transcends these boundaries under a combination of three conditions: high client motivation, extreme personal distress of the client, and negative assessment of existing policies and policy instruments (both in terms of fairness and practicality). Furthermore, street-level bureaucrats were found to be constantly reinterpreting and revising their roles.
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First published in 1980, Street-Level Bureaucracy received critical acclaim for its insightful study of how public service workers, in effect, function as policy decision makers, as they wield their considerable discretion in the day-to-day implementation of public programs. Three decades later, the need to bolster the availability and effectiveness of healthcare, social services, education, and law enforcement is as urgent as ever. In this thirtieth anniversary expanded edition, Michael Lipsky revisits the territory he mapped out in the first edition to reflect on significant policy developments over the last several decades. Despite the difficulties of managing these front-line workers, he shows how street-level bureaucracies can be and regularly are brought into line with public purposes. Street-level bureaucrats-from teachers and police officers to social workers and legal-aid lawyers-interact directly with the public and so represent the frontlines of government policy. In Street-Level Bureaucracy, Lipsky argues that these relatively low-level public service employees labor under huge caseloads, ambiguous agency goals, and inadequate resources. When combined with substantial discretionary authority and the requirement to interpret policy on a case-by-case basis, the difference between government policy in theory and policy in practice can be substantial and troubling. The core dilemma of street-level bureaucrats is that they are supposed to help people or make decisions about them on the basis of individual cases, yet the structure of their jobs makes this impossible. Instead, they are forced to adopt practices such as rationing resources, screening applicants for qualities their organizations favor, "rubberstamping" applications, and routinizing client interactions by imposing the uniformities of mass processing on situations requiring human responsiveness. Occasionally, such strategies work out in favor of the client. But the cumulative effect of street-level decisions made on the basis of routines and simplifications about clients can reroute the intended direction of policy, undermining citizens' expectations of evenhanded treatment. This seminal, award-winning study tells a cautionary tale of how decisions made by overburdened workers translate into ad-hoc policy adaptations that impact peoples' lives and life opportunities. Lipsky maintains, however, that these problems are not insurmountable. Over the years, public managers have developed ways to bring street-level performance more in line with agency goals. This expanded edition of Street-Level Bureaucracy underscores that, despite its challenging nature, street-level work can be made to conform to higher expectations of public service.
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One key responsibility of leaders involves crafting and communicating two types of messages—visions and values—that help followers understand the ultimate purpose of their work. Although scholars have long considered how leaders communicate visions and values to establish a sense of purpose, they have overlooked how these messages can be used to establish a shared sense of purpose, which is achieved when multiple employees possess the same understanding of the purpose of work. In this research, we move beyond the traditional focus on leader rhetoric and individual cognition to examine leader rhetoric and shared cognition. We suggest that a specific combination of messages—a large amount of vision imagery combined with a small number of values—will boost performance more than other combinations because it triggers a shared sense of the organization's ultimate goal, and, in turn, enhances coordination. We found support for our predictions in an archival study of 151 hospitals and an experiment with 62 groups of full-time employees. In light of these findings, we conducted exploratory analyses and discovered two dysfunctional practices: leaders tend to (1) communicate visions without imagery and (2) over-utilize value-laden rhetoric.
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Though political scientists generally understand the origins of native-born reactions to foreigners, less is known about how anti-immigrant contexts trigger a political response within immigrant groups. I address this question by studying the connection between xenophobic rhetoric and Latino politics. I claim that xenophobic rhetoric raises the salience of ethnic identity and impugns its worth. This identity threat leads high-identifying group members to engage in political efforts that assert their group's positive value, whereas low identifiers shun political opportunities to bolster their group's devaluation. I test these claims with an experiment embedded in a nationally representative opinion survey of Latino adults. In light of xenophobic rhetoric, I find that relative to low identifiers, high-identifying Latinos become less politically trusting, more ethnocentric, and increasingly supportive of policies that emphasize ingroup pride. These results clarify xenophobic rhetoric's role in amplifying the influence of ethnic identity on immigrant politics.
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Studies of street-level bureaucracy have introduced a variety of conceptualizations, research approaches, and causal inferences. While this research has produced several insights, the impact of variety in the institutional context has not been adequately explored. We present the construct of a public service gap as a way to incorporate contextual factors and facilitate comparison. This construct addresses the differences between what is asked of and what is offered to public servants working at the street level. The heuristic enables the systematic capture of macro- and meso-contextual influences, thus enhancing comparative research on street-level bureaucracy.
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This article will illustrate how the term ‘radicalization’ has both contributed to and been the subject of the social construction of risk surrounding violence and radicalization. To this extent, contemporary discussions of radicalization are related to ideas of ‘vulnerability’ and susceptibility to ‘extremism’ – topics which facilitate problematic assertions of inherent relationships between challenging ideas and the propensity for violence. The article will close by providing some corrective suggestions to push forward less subjectively framed research, while still engaging in the complex examination of the relationships between identities, ideas, and violence.
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The essay discusses the Israeli queer activist group Black Laundry that emerged in 2001 following the outbreak of the second Intifada. The analysis underscores Black Laundry's move away from the assimilationist politics of the LGBT community in Israel with its narrow understanding of identity politics in terms of group interests, for which the group substituted a "politics of identification" rooted in a marginalized sexual and gendered positioning. Focusing on the group's practices, and reading them for their political and theoretical implications, the essay examines the relation of performative practices to a politics of identification and inquires into the links between political performativity and the performative construction of identity. More broadly, it interrogates how sexual and gender dissidence translates into identification across national and ethnic divides. Finally, the group's insistence on linking queer and feminist issues with the struggle against the occupation, together with its emphasis on bodily practices and utterances, is shown to have far-reaching implications for the very understanding of political agency.
This article assesses the impact of education reform and the new public management (NPM) on the discretion of school teachers. The focal point of the study is Michael Lipsky's theory of discretion which casts public service professionals and others involved in service delivery as `street-level bureaucrats' because their high degree of discretionary rule-making power enabled them to effectively make policy as well as implement it. The article considers the relationship between education reform and the NPM and focuses on the increased emphasis on skills-based teaching and changes in management and leadership in schools. The literature and survey of teachers demonstrate that discretion in the workplace has been eroded to such an extent due to a high degree of central regulation and local accountability as to question the applicability of Lipsky's model. The findings are based on the literature and a small survey undertaken by the author.
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This article examines an Internet project — sarsart.org — that features digital artworks created in response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in spring 2003. Qualitative methods including archival research, semiotic analysis, and interviews are used to examine the emergence and substance of this Internet project. The analysis identifies ways in which contributions by artists and bloggers (i.e., individuals with their own Internet site or Web log) contest institutional representations of SARS. The site challenges the representation of the outbreak on three levels: portrayals of citizens affected by SARS, portrayals of health professionals, and portrayals of the risk and panic associated with the outbreak. The argument is made that Internet projects such as sarsart.org can increase the capacity for cultural resistance by creating greater opportunities for the expression of political opposition to institutional authority.
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Social workers are classic street-level bureaucrats. This article provides a critical examination of Michael Lipsky's account of discretion within street-level bureaucracies. While concurring with the main thrust of Lipsky's critique of management control of discretion, I argue that he gives insufficient attention to the role of professionalism in his analysis and the impact this has on the relationship between front line managers and workers and the nature of discretion. I employ a qualitative case study of adult social work within a local authority to illustrate and develop this argument. The study, which draws primarily on interviews with local managers and practitioners, suggests that the professional status of social workers influences both the nature of their discretion and the way in which this is managed. I conclude that Lipksy's work needs to be augmented by an understanding of the role of other perspectives, such as professionalism, in examining manager-worker relations and discretion in the street-level bureaucracies within which social workers practise.
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This research examines whether the structure of citizens' preferences on government-supplied health insurance changed during the course of the health care debate of the early 1990s. Specifically, it seeks to determine if the considerations that structure citizens' preferences on health insurance changed in a manner consistent with elite attempts to shape public opinion to their advantage. Additionally, it investigates whether change in the structure of citizens' preferences on health insurance policy were moderated by political awareness. Findings indicate that public opinion on government-supplied health insurance changed dramatically over a relatively short period of time; that the structure of preferences changed in accordance with the prominence of arguments advanced by political elites; and that change in preferences and the structure of preferences occurred most dramatically among the low and, especially, medium politically aware.